Those busy folks over at Gardening Gone Wild are hosting another of their Garden Blogger’s Design Workshops–this time on arbors and pergolas.

These types of garden design features are among my favorites because, for me, gardening isn’t just about the plants, it’s about style, form and flow.

I fret over the outdoor design and arrangement as much as I do inside my home. In fact, the reason that I have been relatively slow to develop all this property is my concern for making sure the design is juuuuusssst right. I have to scratch my head and think really, really hard before I decide what to do.

The other reason I’ve been fairly slow to develop the larger landscape is that my big ideas often have big price tags. Which gets me to the topic of arbors…


The garden gate and arbor serve as an entrance to the Colonial garden. Fence, gate and arbor are from Walpole Woodworkers.

The ideal garden that lives inside my head was inspired by growing up in Virginia, where there are countless beautiful historic homes, most with gardens, and historic meccas such as Colonial Williamsburg. Our Colonial ancestors designed their gardens for beauty as well as function. Gardens were not just places to grow vegetables in tight little rows, but were extended rooms of the house, with paths, seating and tables that created outdoor rooms for family and guests to enjoy. Most often they mixed flowers, vegetables and herbs in a pleasing mix of form and function.

Once Harry and I finally put down permanent roots here in Maryland, I decided on a Colonial kitchen themed garden to try and make my dream garden a reality. The white picket fence provides a well-defined “room” for the garden and also extends the architectural interest of our white house as you approach down the long and winding driveway. But I knew that just a picket fence without some sort of vertical interest would look more like a pool enclosure than a true garden, so we added vertical interest with the arbor and gate. The view through the gate is to a bench at the end, which draws the eye and invites the visitor down the path.

Growing over the arbor on one side is a well-established clematis that blooms in late summer. On the other side is a wisteria that blooms in early spring. By mid-summer, the clematis and wisteria have twined together to cover the arbor gate.

I still worry about whether remove or drastically trim back the wisteria because of its Herculean vines. I haven’t done so yet because they actually are climbing up a white plastic chain that I installed so that the vines would have something to attach to. They twine on the sturdy arbor structure but not on the fence itself. The whack or no-whack decision will come in the spring.

Did I tell you that it takes me a long time to decide what to do in the garden?

wisteria may 25 07.jpg

Wisteria twines over the arbor. White plastic chains make excellent supports for small vines to cling to–and are soon masked by all the green.

We have added two other permanent vertical points of interest in the garden as well–a tuteur with a henryi clematis and a small Hakuro-Nishiki willow tree that is surrounded by boxwood and, if the squirrels allow, will be filled with purple tulips in the spring. (A nine-month view of the garden can be seen here.) In summertime, the cucumbers climb on bamboo teepees and the tomatoes on Texas Tomato Cages, adding more height to the garden.

henryi clematis may 25 07.jpg

Clematis henryi on a tuteur

One of the joys of working in a garden with such a well-defined structure is that it makes maintenance somewhat easier. Because I have raised beds I don’t have to tidy bed edges here. Also, the beds are small enough that I can reach in with my long arms to pull weeds or plant. When I need a rest, the bench is right there and provides a perfect location to plot my next big project.

Future big-ticket projects include extending our back patio into a path that leads to the garden. I plan to border the path with lavender and a wild array of useful herbs. Then there’s the chicken coop, the garden shed, the mosaic tile entryway, the container garden, the outdoor shower.

The list goes on and on and on…

Until it’s all done, I have a nice place to sit and plan my next, very slow, move.

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  • Nan Ondra says:

    Thank you, Robin! I think I’ve mentioned a time or two (or more) how much I adore your Colonial kitchen garden. What a treat to see more pictures of it.

  • I have enjoyed reading through your blog. I know what you mean about big ideas and big price tags. But we can all dream … especially over the winter months.

  • jim says:

    Classically elegant. I like seeing the bench through the arbor. Your gardens are beautiful as well. Is the arbor lit at all?

  • kari & kijsa says:

    What a blessing….your garden is so beautful and it’s obvious that so much TLC has gone into it!

    smiles, kari & kijsa

  • Hi Nan – I always appreciate the kind words!

    Craft Gardener – Sometimes I think I work just so that I can afford to garden. Yes, big price tags!

    Jim, Kari and Kijsa – Thanks for the nice words. I am going to have to try really hard next year to do even better!

    –Robin (Bumblebee)

  • Angela says:

    I say hack at that wisteria!!! We affectionately call ours the Whomping Willow ala Harry Potter. It would take over the world if I let it. See you tomorrow (and with fresh gossip!)

  • Angelaaaaaaa (exasperated)!! I don’t gossip. (Not much anyway.)

    –Robin (Bumblebee)

  • Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Your arbors and fences are such classics. The white color and it all is such a lovely setting for your garden.

  • kim says:

    Wow… beautiful arbor, and beautiful pictures, Robin! I admire your decision-making process, actually… mostly because I’m a bit more impulsive and so I end up moving things around a lot. 🙂

  • ewa says:

    Hello Robin,
    I am new to your blog – and on my way to digg it yet 🙂 I would like to say, that I loved this post. Pictures with wisteria on the arbour looks amazing! I love wisteria and this year I am going to make arbor for it.
    Do you mind if I link you on my blog?
    Greetings from Poland,

  • Hi Lisa and Kim – Thanks for the encouragement. Kim, I can’t believe that with your sense of color that you’re impulsive!

    And yes, Ewa, please link to me. I visited your blog and enjoyed very much my virtual visit to Poland.

    –Robin (Bumblebee)

  • Lovely arbor & vines. Wisteria is such a fantastic plant (I mean that in all connotations), I would try to keep it as long as possible.

  • Don says:

    Hello Robin, I am looking for some advice on texas tomato cages. Do you use the 18 inch or the 24 inch diameter six foot cages? Thanks!

    I use the largest size Texas Tomato Cage–and it’s needed! Those indeterminate tomatoes can get more than 6 feet high. These are the only tomato cages I’ve found that can actually support a tomato that size. I know people build their own, but these are easy to assemble (just slip two parts together) and re-usable. The best!

    Robin at Bumblebee